Tom Renney is dressing a veteran-laden lineup tonight, and possibly giving Oiler fans a glimpse of what his opening night roster will look like. Too bad the Canucks are dressing a motley crew of players who are either here on PTOs, are draft-busts or guys destined for the AHL.
The Oilers’ top three forward lines consist of seven guaranteed opening-night starters, one very-likely and one in-a-few-years forwards.
Renney will give Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Ryan Smyth and Jordan Eberle another game to build on the chemistry they displayed in Saskatoon on Tuesday. Sam Gagner will play his first game of the season between Taylor Hall and Tyler Pitlick. You’ll also see captain Shawn Horcoff for the first time with Magnus Paajarvi and Linus Omark on his wings. Tanner House will centre the fourth line flanked by Lennart Petrell and Darcy Hordichuk.
If Ales Hemsky was cleared for contact he’d be on Gagner’s right side, but the other two lines we could see on October 9th. The Oilers want to see how Nugent-Hopkins fares against better competition, but they’ll have to wait for another night, because the Canucks lineup is far from a regular NHL lineup.
Those sitting in Rexall or watching on TSN will see three new preseason D pairings:
Theo Peckham – Jeff Petry
Ladislav Smid- Tom Gilbert
Taylor Chorney – Alex Plante
Plante needs a strong showing. He gained lots of respect for his play last season in OKC. He was much more physical than previous years, and he stood up for his teammates against guys he probably shouldn’t have. Those attributes won’t get him to the NHL, but they will keep him around for a few years. Improving his footspeed is a concern. He moves the puck very well, anticipates the play nicely, but like most young D-men he needs more consistency.
"He needs opportunity there is no question," said Renney. "I think whenever he is in the lineup he needs to assert himself with his size and strength. He actually has good mobility for a big guy, he’s got a great stick, he shoots the puck well, he can pass it well, but like most young guys, especially D-men, he needs to find the ability to take things in and process the game. He has good hockey sense, he understands the game well, but in the heat of the battle knowing how to make the correct decisions under certain circumstances is very important. It takes time. We are looking for the game to be more fluid for him."
Devan Dubynk gets the start with Yann Danis coming off the bench. Dubnyk won’t have to do much to be better than Khabibulin was on Tuesday, but the door is open for him to get Renney’s attention. Renney has stated numerous times he doesn’t have a set plan regarding his starting goaltender. He hinted he might be leaning towards an equal rotation, but he also mentioned he isn’t scared to hand the starting job to the younger Dubnyk, if he shows he worthy of it.
A strong showing by Dubnyk will put the pressure on Khabibulin and make for an exciting competition.
When you read the Canucks lineup you wonder how the NHL can allow teams to ice that type of lineup. League rules state you have to dress a minumum of nine veterans (100 games played) and/or former first round picks. The Canucks lineup meets those requirements, but only because they have guys like Owen Nolan, Todd Fedoruk, Steve Begin, Nolan Baumgartner and Ryan Parent.
I think it is a travesty that the league allows fans to pay NHL money to see AHL lineups. Most home teams dress a better lineup, we’ve seen it for years, and I understand the Canucks don’t have many openings on their deep roster, but I’d like to see some sort of common ground where fans could watch the road team without needing to glance at their program every shift to see who is on the ice.
Here’s the Canucks lineup:
Dimitrakos – Hodgson – Nolan
Fedoruk – Ebbett – Oreskovich
Volpatti – Schroeder – Mancari
Duco – Begin – Pinizzotto
Parent – Baumgartner
Sauve – Eriksson
Sulzer – Corrado
GAGNER (MARTINI) AND UNDERHILL?
Sam Gagner didn’t trade in his hockey skates for figure skates this summer, but he did team up with former two-time Olympian pairs figure skater, Barbara Underhill, to work on his skating. Underhill teaches powerskating and last summer she worked extensively with Rangers’ forward Brian Boyle. Boyle, a former first rounder, had a breakout season scoring 21 goals. His previous best was four.
No one is suggesting that Gagner will jump from 15 goals last season to 32 this year, but he is confident that his powerskating classes will make him more effective.
Why this summer?
"I just think that it’s such a fast game now, that you can never be too fast. It (getting faster) is something I’ve wanted to work on for a little while now. We worked a lot on my edge work, tight turns and pivoting. She has worked with a lot of pro guys, specifially the Rangers and Lightning, and she was really good for me. I feel I’m a different skater now. I feel a lot better on my edges and hopefully it pays dividends going into this year."
He hasn’t had the chance to test out his new style in a game, but I asked him what differences he’s noticed during practice and scrimmages?
"Just in tight spaces, being able to get around quicker and being stronger on my egdes. It is such a quick game now and things happen at such a high pace, you have to be able to change direction and not break stride. That’s been a big help for me, and hopefully going into a game situation it helps more and more."
Gagner’s hockey sense, intensity and offensive skills have never been questioned; his crutch has always been his skating. He looks a bit leaner, and I’m curious to see how much quicker he looks tonight.
Renney plans on playing him with Hall and Hemsky to start the season, so if Gagner can keep up to them, he should have a great opportunity to have his best offensive season.
HELP OUT SOME KIDS
Take a quick second to click here and help some Edmonton residents get a playground built for their kids courtesy of Schneiders. Currently they sit in 2nd place, 200 votes behind. Sara dropped me a line asking the Nation to help out. " You should know that Brintnell has around 4500 people, mostly young families. Our nearest school is Donald Massy K-9 and the school doesn’t even have a playground for our kids. I have learned that these sorts of projects take a lot of time and effort and they do not get a lot of financial help from anyone very easily. That’s the why this contest is such a huge opportunity for us."
Take a quick second and help them out. Then go watch the Oilers crush an embarrassingly weak Canucks roster.